Bad Fiction Spotlight: Tom Kratman’s Carrera series

Imagine you have a series where everything is handed to the main character on a silver platter, and they still appear like they’re barely able to reach the plate. This surreal experience is the heart of Tom Kratman’s Carrera series.

The backstory of how the series came to be is in many ways more interesting than the story of the books themselves. Tom Kratman was an officer in the US Army who had a disappointing career, rising to lieutenant colonel essentially by default without actually getting to command anything of significance. This was combined with a legal career that, to put it mildly, he wasn’t suited for.

So, he wrote several manuscripts of military fantasy stories. Then the infamous Baen Books accepted those manuscripts (after one throwaway novel featuring a heroic Texas taking on an evil Hillary Clinton caricature that even Kratman himself put solely into the “potboiler” category). Now, if these were just conventional thrillers that happened to be, say, a little more right-wing than even the norm for the genre, they would have been considered mild curiosities at best.

The Carrera books were not conventional thrillers. For one, they were intended as military manuals, to show the guy who was too good for those jealous idiots in the Pentagon how to really do stuff. Next, they were extremely cumbersome in terms of prose (to the extent that the first book had to be released in two volumes because it was too big). Finally, Baen had to apply a ‘sci-fi’ covering to them-but only the most basic covering. The result was very interesting.

So, here’s the plot summary of the actual books themselves. A space probe discovers another habitable world, and a force led by evil European administrators sends colony ships across the distance to “Terra Nova”, with various nationalities. Terra Nova is essentially exactly the same as the world the colonists left, only with everything upside down and backwards and the country names replaced with bad puns. South Africa becomes North Uhuru, the US is the Federated States of Columbia, France is Gaul, Britain is Anglia, to the disgust of Scots, Iraq is Sumer, etc… The worst examples are China and India, which become Zhong Guo and Bharat-yes, China and India become-China and India.

Meanwhile, the United Nations that ruled Old Earth collapsed into a literal backwards, decadent monarchy. Their space fleet was rusty and malfunctioning, to the point where they needed to buy replacement parts from the Terra Nova surface.

After a nonsensical “World War” that involved the “US”, “England”, and “Germany” against “France”, “Russia”, and “Japan”, there was a “Vietnam War” and a “Gulf War”, and even an “Iran-Iraq War”. (You see a pattern with the quotations).

At this point the actual books start. Patrick Hennessy has his family killed on “9/11” (which involves airships), kills several obnoxious yet nonviolent strawman pro-Muslim demonstrators, and after a bit of “Kind Hearts and Coronets-ing”, gets a huge inheritance. Calling himself Carrera, the vengeance-minded soldier sets to work on building a mercenary force out of formerly-demilitarized “Panama”.

After Carrera acquires a ton of suspiciously cheap military gear, he now has a brigade. Said brigade fights in the invasion of “Iraq”, where they find the Mystery WMDs after Carrera befriends a defeated “Iraqi” commander.

Eventually, the commander of the Space UN fleet is taken hostage and “Riyadh” nuked (!) by Carrera. This solves the “War on Terror” issue, and the series continues to the original manuscripts, where Carrera, with his array of meticulously built-up defenses, fights off the attacks on “Panama” by the “EU” and “China”.

The series has kind of been put on “indefinite hold”, as Kratman left to focus on writing a web column (and argue in the comments sections of said column) instead. Naturally, it stopped right on a “cliffhanger”, after fending off a “Chinese” amphibious attack.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

What makes the books stand out, besides the horrible writing and worse pacing (I was able to skip an entire book without missing anything, and could probably have skipped two more and still figured out what was going on), is the weirdly unheroic hero.

Carrera is a psychopath whose maximum effort at redemption is the occasional “I feel bad about this” sentence that doesn’t change any example of the characterization. The prologue to “A Desert Called Peace” features a man called the “Blue Jinn” who is confronting a huge group of prisoners, and orders the men to be crucified and the women and children sold into slavery. One reviewer thought the Blue Jinn was some yet-to-be-introduced antagonist-it was Carrera.

(The counterinsurgency tactic Carrea prefers can be summed up as ‘kill every man old enough to grow a beard, unless they’re on your side already’.)

Even towards his own troops, Carrera is unheroic. The main character casually yawns during a discussion of training deaths and views the percentage of casualties in training as not an inevitable tragedy but as an agreeable goal to toughen the troops up. Even the ruthlessness of the protagonist is secondary to the really weird characteristic-the fact, alluded to in the introduction, that even given every advantage, Carrera is a terrible commander.

When equipping his army, Carrera is an announced master of logistics. Unfortunately, Tom Kratman’s definitions of logistics involve only two things:

-An initial sticker price.

-A gamey ‘cost limit’ that can’t be exceeded.

This combines itself with the ‘manual’ part-see, everything is to be meticulously researched, because this is a true manual, and must be accurate. So the military is equipped using the same logic someone uses when looking at a Steam sale (ooh, three indie games for a dollar fifty!). My favorite example is his air force-rather than equip with surplus “MiG-29s” or something similar, Kratman saw that MiG-17s were available for the low thousands of dollars, so he had “Panama’s” air force be equipped with hundreds of “MiG-17s”-of course, they were upgraded with stuff that would obliterate the cost savings, but hey-sticker price.

My second-favorite is the navy, where he buys ships at scrap prices and has them be usable without budget-busting refits.

There are of course exceptions to this cheapskating. Of course “Panama” spends effort designing the Perfect Military Rifle, and makes super-tech whose cost calculations completely ignore development costs-therefore they get submarines that have never-before-used propulsion systems and can dive incredibly deep, as well as stealth aircraft. Then there’s the actual fighting.

In training, the infantry die repeatedly to sloppliness on the part of the trainer that doesn’t teach the survivors anything. The tank crews, on the other hand, not only perform poorly in initial training and are diverted to useless attacks on sea targets rather than returning until they get their fundamentals right, but when introduced to their vehicles, are given a de facto advertisment from the manufacturer instead of a realistic evaluation, to “improve morale”.

Once the combat begins, even that pales in comparison.

Pretty much every conventional battle follows the same formula. Kratman has bragged about writing full OPLANs and logistics plans for every single battle.

-Self-insert comes up with and infodumps detailed Grand Plan. (Sometimes the infodump is even multiple books ahead of the actual battle, but it’s there)

-Battle starts. Whatever the force, they just immediately dig in and don’t maneuver.

-Kratmanland forces get pounded by the strawman enemy.

-The Grand Plan is launched after many casualties.

-The Grand Plan is executed, and routs the strawman enemy.

Reading about tank crews not doing anything while infantry are fighting for their lives not too far away is kind of bizarre-and not even like any other Mary Sue. A conventional Mary Sue is something like the main character in the horribly wish-fulfillment computer fantasy anime series Sword Art Online, who can go into a VR game he’s never played before and zip around leaping and cutting his way to victory in a competitive tournament despite different mechanics. In Kratmanland, he would just camp in a bottleneck until the clock ran out and eke out a tiny victory by default thanks to having two more hit points than his opponent.

Thankfully, those who wish to check out the “majesty” of A Desert Called Peace for themselves can do so, for Baen has made the entire book free.

Just be prepared.

24 thoughts on “Bad Fiction Spotlight: Tom Kratman’s Carrera series

  1. Bernard Korzeniewicz

    Well, you really did not read that book.

    Whole “El Cid Legio” series is serise of fictionalised thoughts/speaches on politics, military, woman in military, counter-isurgency and many other themes. Those books are “to teach and to play”, just like XIX century popular books for working class.

    A plot, action, characters are just devices to drive home a lesson.

    A Simple lesson: “media lies” (fake news); politicians are monsters (Podesta) or psychos (HRC); trust noone, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Frank Lalonde

      Look, I used to drive the literal shortbus carrying kids with Downs and autism to school. I know the limits of these so-called “to teach and to play” books. Prosletyzers used to drop Jack T Chick tracts at the school, handed a few to me, and they are one thing these kids don’t read. It’s so fucking departed from anything ringing a bell for reality, seconded only by Kratman’s “simple lessons”. You say these books are aimed at working class, simple minded audience? Well that’s an insult to even literal retards. These books are for twisted, sour, bitter cunts who substitute everything they see in real life with blowup dolls, honestly I’m surprised Baen didn’t become a subconscious loop of John Denver’s Cuntry Roads.

      That was a thing. Another thing is, you better stop quoting James Mattis because he won’t agree with you. Heard what he just said after becoming SOD? He isn’t a cunt.


  2. Terrence MacArthur

    I dunno, guy. Sure, it’s overblown and ridiculously exaggerated to the nth degree, but it has a lot of common sense if you’re entirely pragmatic and don’t much care for sentiment. But, on the other hand, you oversimplify and call Carrera a psychotic, which he isn’t. He’s just a mission-fixated soldier, although in the real world no US military organization tolerates such people. Mission-oriented is fine, but mission-fixated, with utter disregard for political correctness, for what is considerred humanitarianism, etc., is not. His take on training is pretty realistic though, and I’ve spent time both in combat and in basic training units, as a trainee in ’67 and again in ’79 and as a training brigade staff weenie for a couple years in the early ’80s. I know from personal experience that, especially in peacetime, our training does little or nothing to prepare soldiers for combat, with safety trumping reality every time. I’ve seen a full Colonel training center commander literally turn white at a brigade staff call. He was scared his career was over because a trainee died during a road march, of an undisclosed heart problem. if there was any fault involved, it was at the recruiting command level where he was examined and certified to be medically fit. But a trainee died, and a full Colonel was scared. In the ’80s a Drill Sergeant couldn’t even be addressed as “Drill Sergeant”. Something about it being demeaning to trainees, implying that the DIs were somehow in a different (better) class than the trainees. ??!!??!!?? Which is why our casualty rates have always been so high in the first parts of any war we get into. Carrera’s math, something like 3 percent killed in training being better than maybe 15 to 20 percent killed in combat due to inadequate traning, may seem inhuman, but it’s also realistic. Kratman may overexaggerate to make his point, but quite a few of his points are perfectly valid. And another thing. I’ll bet a thousand bucks that if you ever spent a day in uniform, which I doubt, it was never in combat and especially not in an insurgent situation, like Vietnam. Also, nobody who makes it to Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army has had a disappointing career. LTC is not a rank anyone reaches by just showing up every day. Ony 48% of 2nd lieutenants make it to Major, and only 25% of those make it to LTC (12% of the original batch of 2LTs). So you’re claiming that ending up in the top 12% of your peers equates to a disappointing career? What do you require for a successful career? Being in the top 6%, who make full Colonel? If so, fully 94% of all US Army officers have disappointing careers.

    Here’s the problem. whether it’s lousy fiction or not can certainly be argued, but you’ve got no business using arguments which are based on your own obvious ignorance about certain things. Your prejudices are showing, and I even begin to suspect you might be the real life version of one of those “Cosmos” Carerra hates.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One suspects that “coiler” thinks of s/h/itself as some kind of deadly snake, laying in ambush, when s/h/it’s really only a turd laid in an S pattern. His ignorance is exceeded only by his stupidity. In other words, guys, don’t worry about what he says.

    One thing, though, Terrence; the figure of 8% – or anything remotely like that – just isn’t there in the textev. The actual figure is from both German usage, pre- and during WW II, and my own OSUT company, in 1974; up to one half of one percent for initial entry training, only, and a somewhat more philosophical approach to losses during collective unit training thereafter, but with no percentage expected to be killed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Frank Lalonde

      TLDR of Kratman’s post: He ain’t shit so he thinks everyone else ain’t shit.

      No percentage expected to be killed in the real world training doctrine – you wanna find some legitimacy for your wet dream, to say it isn’t as bad as it seems? The real world doctrine is sane, your isn’t. You ended up playing chicken by the standards in the novel you know?

      By the way, there’s a real world Patrick Hennessey, a venerable highland paddy ten times the man your plastic one in the book ever became. Fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, lead a company of locals, published two memoirs on how mechanized infantry actually fights. To put it politely, you shouldn’t want him to read your books and comment on them.


    2. T41

      Honestly Kratman’s novels won’t roll with anyone who went to Iraq. Col. David Couvillon is one of the most well known, most successful American Military Governors in Iraq and what he did resembles nothing Carrera did.


    1. Frank Lalonde

      To you. We’ve talked too many times before. Scratch that, you’ve came to me to talk too many times before. I listened, I chatted with you, because I have an obligation to not be an unfeeling bastard back then and there. I still have the obligation to everyone else in the world, but there’s no brass now asking me to keep you company.

      Of course you’ll come back, you’re simple. You’ve already ran out of meaningful things to do and think before you get senile. You ain’t shit, shit ain’t you.


  4. T41:

    Sadly for you theory, my novels work quite well with a number of people who rolled to Iraq (which, for various reasons, one doubts would include you), and are required reading in some portions of the Spec Ops community. Poor you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think you have a bad case of mistaken identity, Frank. That, or you’re simply delusional.

    I am going, however, to show you what a military ignoramus you are. You claim that no percentage is expected to be killed. Through most of my time in the Army, and perhaps all of it, the percentages were known. 1/10th of one percent would die every year, roughly half and half training and off duty accidents. Now pay attention here; I will try to use short sentences and mono- of duosyllabic words so you can understand.

    Way up top of the Army’s personnel management system (sorry about that multisyllabic word; personnel refers to people, okay?) there is a responsibility (that means that thing you’re not really showing by mooching off your parents and living in their basement) to predict how many new bodies will be needed every year, due to people retiring, medically retiring (also a partial function of training accidents), ETSing, being court-martialled, admin discharges, and such. Among that “such” is killed in training or to off duty accidents. They would be totally remiss if they did not do this, because USAREC, Army Recruiting Command, needs to know how many people it can and must put into uniform, while the Comptroller of the Army needs to know how much money must be budgeted for USAREC for advertising, transportation, paperwork, IT, etc., all of which will vary with the size of the mission, and the initial entry training establishment needs to be able to schedule classes. None of this will work without a realistic expectation of losses to various causes.

    Clear enough now? Do you realize what an idiot you are yet? Good.

    Further, you may think this is some US specific aberration. I recently received an email from a friend of mine, a retired British Army sergeant major (WO2), that said, “The presumption that risk appetite trends to zero blights peacetime military training – I suspect more for you than for us, we have budgets for things like basic training deaths (including suicides) and major exercises, which define the statistical norm of deaths and injuries and – assuming no negligence or stupidly dangerous behaviour was involved once the investigation has finished – provide top cover for commanders and organisers of training. I have a hazy memory of being allowed up to a dozen or so KIA for a two-week armoured divisional exercise, certainly the number was around that.”

    I hope this clear up your misapprehension’s about losses in training in the US forces and elsewhere, as well as clearing up, to the extent facts can, you terrible case of Dunning-Kruger.

    Now run along and go fuck yourself, little boy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. JF1958

    Note to whiners: When the sum of the value of your royalty checks is larger than the Colonel’s. Then come talk about any perceived literary defects. Those who can, create. Those who can’t,(and some of those who can) teach, and those who can’t teach salve their wounded feelings by being critics.


  7. Mike McElhaney

    I’m a combat vet and enjoy Col. Kratman’s books. I have been there, albeit at the NCO level. I am glad to put my money down to buy them. If it turns out that others write better books, I may we’ll decide to buy those. However, to date, military fiction is blessed by the Col’s efforts. Thank you sir for your work to entertain and inform me.


  8. Passing Stranger

    Fascinating. Whenever someone points out the ineptitude of Kratman’s writing, he (and of course his groupies, why would a bully operate alone?) come along.
    Rather pathetic really.

    BTW coilerxii if you want to plumb the depths of Kratman’s idiocy, try his paean to the Waffen SS, ‘Watch on the Rhine’.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.